“Metaphors of Data” reading list

With generous contributions from the Social Media Collective extended family, I have put together a list that brings together academic and popular writing on metaphors of data, along with pieces that approach questions of data and commercial/political power. The goal in assembling this list was to catalog resources that are helpful in unpacking and critiquing different metaphors, ranging from the hype around big data as the new oil to less common (and perhaps more curious) formulations, such as data as sweat or toxic waste.


Metaphors of Data: a Reading List


These resources were originally compiled to support a workshop on data and power (organized at the Mobile Life Centre in Stockholm, Sweden). Sara Watson’s insightful DIS piece on the Industrial Metaphors of Big Data and Maciej Cegłowski’s brilliant talk Haunted By Data turned out to be particularly helpful for provoking conversation among scholars and practitioners. The hope is that the list could be useful also for others in having critical conversations about data.

The list is best seen as an unfinished, non-exhaustive document. We welcome comments and, in particular, recommendations of further work to include. Please use the comment space at the bottom of the page to offer suggestions, and we will try to update the list in light of them.

New special issue of JOBEM: “Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media”

A little over a year ago, JOBEM editor Zizi Papacharissi approached me, R. Stuart Geiger (UC Berkeley) and Stacy Blasiola (University of Illinois at Chicago) with the idea of a JOBEM special issue hat would be edited and authored by graduate students. We were excited to accept the invitation and set out for the adventure.

The resulting special issue, titled Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media, has now been published. We are proud to present this issue that begins a new thread in the longstanding conversation about what it means for media to be ‘‘old’’ and ‘‘new.’’ While this distinction is not one we should take for granted, the articles in this issue all demonstrate how we can strategically approach the intricate intersections and interconnections of different media—both old and new.

We were very impressed by the thoughtful and provocative work graduate students across many disciplinary fields contributed in response to our call. Presenting a wide range of international scholarship from graduate students across many different disciplinary backgrounds, topical literatures, methodological approaches, and theoretical frameworks, this special issue represents an emerging approach to what it means to study broadcasting in an era of electronic media.

The guest-edited issue features the following seven articles, along with our Introduction:

We hope that you’ll find the collection inspiring and productive, and we invite you to share them with others who might enjoy them too!

Last but not least, if you are coming to IR15 in a few weeks, we hope to see you at the similarly named fishbowl on the first day of the conference. This will be an opportunity to take the conversation further, together with the community of Internet researchers!

Lectio Precursoria: Interpersonal Boundary Regulation in the Context of Social Network Services

Interpersonal boundary regulation constitutes of the efforts needed to make the world work, that is, for people to achieve contextually desirable degrees of social interaction and to build and sustain their relations with others and with the self. In my dissertation, I examined the topic in the context of social network services. 

I defended the work last week at University of Helsinki, with Assistant Professor Lorraine Kisselburgh from Purdue University as my opponent. Below, you can find an adapted version of the talk, lectio precursoria, that I gave as a part of the public examination. If you are curious to take a look at the dissertation itself, a digital version is freely available online.

Madam Opponent, Madam Custos, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the last decade, social network services have grown to play important roles in the everyday life of millions of people. While this new year is only about to begin, chances are many of you have already visited a social network service, such as Facebook, during its first days. Most likely even earlier today. And, to be honest, I would not be surprised if some of you accessed one during this talk, too.

Continue reading “Lectio Precursoria: Interpersonal Boundary Regulation in the Context of Social Network Services”

Account Sharing in the Context of Networked Hospitality Exchange

When it comes to designing web services, an individual user is often taken as the starting point.

In many cases, it’s a good, practical assumption to make. It can, however, prove to be problematic when it comes to the so called ‘sharing economy’ where people share resources, such as physical space and tangible items, with others with the help of networked tools. After all, our homes, possessions, and everyday lives are often shared with others.


Considering these dynamics of sharing from a more focused perspective, I interviewed couples, families, and housemates who accommodate strangers in their homes via Couchsurfing.org. The interviews were conducted in metropolitan areas in the US in the summer of 2012, primarily in the interviewees’ homes – the same domestic spaces that the participants offer to open up for visiting couchsurfers. The study is a step towards unraveling practices of account sharing in the context of networked hospitality exchange.

While Couchsurfing.org allows users to set up profiles that explicitly represent  ‘several people’, the site is limited in its support for everyday account sharing. The structure of profiles is not convenient for presenting multiple people, nor is the messaging system set up to encourage multiple profile owners to cooperate in handling requests from potential visitors.

Findings concerning what it means to use a single account as a multi-person household reveal several challenges. These include:

  1. Presenting multiple people with a single profile
  2. Coordinating and negotiating how the household responds to requests it receives
  3. Sharing the benefits of a good reputation in a fair way among household members

Beyond particular details, these challenges are not confined to Couchsurfing.org or even to other similar non-monetary networked hospitality exchange services, such as Bewelcome and Hospitality Club. Further parallels can be found, for instance, from sites like Airbnb and Bizpora that help people monetize their willingness to make domestic spaces available to others. Here, too, the need to negotiate with other household members over access to domestic spaces may arise, with the added question of how the exchange of money between hosts and visitors affects the dynamics among hosts.

Similar issues are important also for ‘collaborative consumption’ systems that facilitate, for instance, local online exchange or ridesharing. Since sharing and exchanging can concern goods that are co-owned by multiple people, such as cars, bikes, or other tangible items, questions of accumulating a reputation and achieving satisfactory coordination of exchange activities are of crucial importance in this context, too.

On Couchsurfing.org, members may face challenges due to the scarce support for account sharing, for example in how to continue participation as a reputed member after a life change. However, consequences could be much more troubling in other systems that use the social and economic value of reputation more systematically as a condition for access to participation and other valued resources.

Adopting a design focus beyond individuals and developing services that support account sharing in practical yet fair ways is no easy task. This is, however, an increasingly critical issue to address as systems that facilitate network hospitality and other forms of collaborative consumption permeate the everyday lives of a growing number of people.

Amidst the rising rhetoric of a ‘reputation economy’, it is necessary to engage the inclusions, exclusions, and inequalities that reputation metrics may renew or create, especially if they fail to acknowledge people’s account sharing practices.

A preprint (pdfof the paper Account Sharing in the Context of Networked Hospitality Exchange is already available. The paper will be presented in February at the CSCW 2014 Conference in Baltimore, USA. Research for this paper was conducted during my internship at Microsoft Research New England in 2012. I am indebted to Mary L. Gray, Nancy Baym, and other members of the Social Media Collective for their invaluable advice and support throughout the project.

Picture credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/plutor/3169836251/

Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media

In exciting news, Stacy Blasiola, R. Stuart Geiger and I are announcing a call for papers for a Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Special Issue. Please pass on to your networks, or even better, send us an abstract.

Call for Papers

Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Special Issue

Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media

In this special issue edited and authored by graduate students, JOBEM is calling on emerging scholars to redefine “broadcasting” and explore the relevance of this term in an age of electronic media. We believe that graduate students are uniquely situated to change the conversation around new and old media, rethinking both what it means for media to come of age and how to study such a phenomenon.

Special Issue Coordinating Editor-in-Chief

Stacy Blasiola (University of Illinois at Chicago, sblasi2@uic.edu)

Special Issue Guest Editors

R. Stuart Geiger (University of California, Berkeley)

Airi Lampinen(Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT & University of Helsinki)


Deadline for Extended Abstracts: August 19, 2013

Full Paper Invitation: September 22, 2013

Deadline for Full Papers: January 6, 2014

Final Decisions: May 6, 2014

Contact: JOBEMgradIssue@gmail.com

As guest editors for the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, we know that the term “broadcasting” certainly has the connotations of a rapidly-disappearing era. There is a strong temptation to sharply distinguish between old and new media, and “broadcasting” (and even “electronic”) is a term that is now often associated with the old. We are constantly told that we are in the midst of a digital/social media revolution that will make the unidirectional, mass communication model obsolete. Yet a cursory glance into either the history of media technology or the contemporary use of new media platforms complicates these dominant narratives. Do we need new terms to help us think about what it means for new media to come of age, or do we need to reappropriate old terms?

Do ideas about new media revolutions help us better understand the complicated relationships between radio and early television programming, telegraph networks and emerging telephone infrastructure, or musicians and the various shifts in the recording industry? Do notions of social media disruptions help us understand how participation takes place in sites like Wikipedia, reddit, or YouTube, or how these sites are situated in relation to more established news and media industries? What is the relevance of “old media” terms such as “broadcasting” for studying today’s social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and Pinterest? We call on graduate students to start a new thread in the conversation about what it means for media to be old and new. For us, rethinking “broadcasting” in an era of electronic media is to neither hastily disregard the legacy of these terms nor cling to them too rigidly.

As graduate students, we feel a curious resonance with the contradictory expectations surrounding new media forms. We are called to be apprentices, learning to participate in a longstanding and well-established institution; yet at the same time we are called to be radical revolutionaries, disrupting old ways of thinking. Graduate students, like many new media services and platforms, face many anxieties about what it means to come of age in a landscape already filled with towering figures. Many of the issues we face are longstanding problems that every generation before us also confronted, but we also face many concerns that are unique to our current historical situation.

As emerging scholars, we believe that graduate students are uniquely situated to change the conversation around new and old media, rethinking both what it means for media to come of age and how to study such a phenomenon. In this special issue, we call on graduate students to redefine what “broadcasting” means and explore the relevance of this term in an age of electronic media. We intentionally leave this open to interpretation. We seek papers that will theoretically and empirically advance our understanding of the diverse array of practices, content, people, technologies, industries, and policies that collectively constitute our contemporary media ecology.

We call for papers from a wide variety of disciplines and interdisciplinary fields, recognizing that scholarship can take a variety of different forms. We invite authors to:

  • propose novel theoretical or methodological frameworks to the study of media and broadcasting

  • critically review and synthesize existing academic literatures about media and broadcasting

  • discursively analyze various rhetorics and narratives around/in media and broadcasting

  • document case studies about historical and/or contemporary media and broadcasting forms

  • relate ethnographic, qualitative, or quantitative studies about the role of media and broadcasting in various social contexts

  • contact us about any other paper forms, or if you are unsure if your paper is suitable for this special issue


Deadlines and Submission Instructions


Deadline for Extended Abstracts: August 19, 2013

Invitations to Submit Full Papers: September 22, 2013

Deadline to Submit Full Papers: January 6, 2014

Final Decisions to Authors: May 6, 2014

Final Revisions for Full Papers: May 26, 2014

Publication of the Special Issue: September 2014

All submissions must be graduate student driven, meaning that the primary authors should be enrolled as graduate students (at least) at the time of submitting extended abstracts.  Although collaborative work with non-graduate students is acceptable, we seek papers that are primarily conceptualized and authored by graduate students. Collaborative work with other students is highly encouraged. Importantly, the corresponding, lead author–who will be responsible for the paper and interactions with the editors–must be a graduate student.

Because we anticipate a large number of submissions, we will not initially accept full papers for review. Interested authors must first send a proposal of their paper in an extended abstract format of 600-800 words, not including references. The extended abstract should clearly introduce and outline the paper, giving reviewers from a wide variety of academic fields enough context and detail to evaluate its feasibility as a full paper, intellectual merit, relevance to the special issue theme, and broader impacts. As the research for these papers may not yet be complete, we do not expect that extended abstracts will necessarily include all of the paper’s findings or conclusions. However, the extended abstracts should outline what kinds of findings or conclusions the authors expect to present in the final paper. Specifically, extended abstracts should include:

  • a title

  • a description of the paper’s core topic, case, problem, and/or argument

  • the methodological approach, theoretical background, and/or disciplinary field

  • the paper’s relevance to related academic literatures

  • expected findings or conclusions

  • expected contributions to the study of media

Extended abstracts must be mailed as an attachment to JOBEMgradIssue@gmail.com and must be sent in .rtf, .doc or .docx format. We cannot accept .pdf submissions.

Authors whose abstracts are accepted will be invited to submit a full paper of no more than 7,500 words (including references). Invited full papers will be subject to a formal peer review process, and papers will only be published if they pass JOBEM’s standard reviewing process. Authors must adhere to a strict schedule for submission and revisions. Authors whose manuscripts do not get accepted to the special issue are encouraged to consider submitting revised papers to JOBEM through the normal submission process.

All submissions must adhere to the formatting guidelines for Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. Manuscripts must adhere to APA style format. Complete submission guidelines can be accessed at http://www.beaweb.org/jobem-guidelines.htm.Full papers must be submitted online at: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/hbem (select “Special Issue: Grad Issue” as a manuscript type).


Measuring Networked Social Privacy

Xinru Page, Karen Tang, Fred Stutzman and I are organizing a two-day workshop on measuring networked social privacy at the CSCW 2013 conference next spring. We are inviting researchers from diverse backgrounds to come and work with us on what would it look like to “measure” networked social privacy in rigorous, productive ways. Please pass our CfP on to your networks, or even better, submit a position paper and join the endeavor!

Call for Participation

Measuring Networked Social Privacy: Qualitative & Quantitative Approaches

Social media plays an increasingly important role in interpersonal relationships and, consequently, raises privacy questions for end-users. However, there is little guidance or consensus for researchers on how to measure privacy in social media contexts, such as in social network sites like Facebook or Twitter. To this point, privacy measurement has focused more on data protection for end-users and used privacy scales like CFIP, IUIPC, and the Westin Segmentation Index. While these scales have been used for cross-study comparisons, they primarily emphasize informational privacy concerns and are less effective at capturing interpersonal and interactional privacy concerns.

Thus, there is a clear need to develop appropriate metrics and techniques for measuring privacy concerns in social media. Accomplishing such a goal requires knowledge of the current methods for measuring social privacy, as well as various existing interpersonal privacy frameworks. In this workshop, we will cultivate a common understanding of privacy frameworks, provide an overview of recent empirical work on privacy in social media, and encourage the development of consensus among the community on how to approach measuring social privacy for these networked, interpersonal settings. Our 2-day workshop will provide participants the opportunity to work more deeply on these issues, including opportunities to create and pilot new privacy measures, methods, and frameworks that will comprise a toolbox of techniques that can be used to study privacy concerns in social media.

We invite researchers from various domains to join this multidisciplinary workshop and address a number of key challenges in achieving this research vision. Some of these challenges include:

  1. “Measuring” privacy: How should privacy be measured? Many studies run into the “privacy paradox” which points to how privacy concerns are not correlated with actual behavior. How should studies ensure that they are capturing untainted privacy concerns? How do we connect concerns with behavior?
  2. Contextualizing privacy: How context-specific should privacy metrics be? How can we anticipate the types of social privacy concerns that will be most salient for different audiences? What types of situational context need to be captured in order to effectively capture interpersonal privacy concerns in social media?
  3. Cross-study comparisons: How can general privacy measures be useful across different studies? What ways can we measure whether one privacy design is more effective than another in addressing social privacy concerns? How should context be considered when comparing privacy concerns across studies?
  4. Integrating qualitative with quantitative: What is the role of various qualitative and quantitative methods in developing metrics? How can these methods complement each other? In which situations should a particular method, tool, and/or study design be used?
  5. Integrating frameworks and metrics: How can we draw from existing privacy frameworks to contribute to our understanding of privacy in social media? What aspects of social privacy do these frameworks do a good job of capturing? What aspects of social privacy do these frameworks neglect to capture? How can we translate these privacy frameworks into a tool for capturing privacy concerns?

Interested parties should submit a position paper (2-4 pages in the Extended Abstracts format) by November 16, 2012, 11:59PM Pacific Standard Time.

We welcome a range of work including (but not limited to): (1) addressing one of the challenges described above, (2) experiences and/or case studies about measuring privacy and/or developing novel privacy frameworks, (3) lessons learned of what works and what doesn’t work when capturing social privacy concerns, (4) challenges to established assumptions about measuring privacy, and (5) ideas on novel directions in creating new privacy metrics and frameworks.

All submissions should be made in English. Our program committee will peer-review submissions and evaluate participants based on their potential to contribute to the workshop goals and discussions. At least one author of each accepted paper must register for the workshop.

Important dates

  • Submission deadline – November 16, 2012
  • Notification of acceptance – December 11, 2012
  • Workshop at CSCW 2013 – February 23-24, 2013

In all issues related to the workshop, please contact us by e-mail at networkedprivacy(at)gmail.com

Elephants and Murky Waters: Why We Need to Examine Multiple Social Media Sites

Elephants and Murky Waters: Why We Need to Examine Multiple Social Media Sites

In her recent post on the Cyborgology blog, Jenny Davis brought the pervasive use of Facebook as a study site back into conversation. In brief, she argued that “studying Facebook—or any fleeting technological object—is not problematic as long as we theorize said object”. The take away from this statement is important: We can hope to make lasting contributions to research literature through our conceptual work – much more so than through the necessarily ephemeral empirical details that are tied to a time, a place, and particular technologies.

In this post, I want to give a different yet complementary answer to why it may be a problem if our research efforts are focused on a single study site. This is regardless of whether it is the currently most popular social network site or an already obsolete technological object. The post made me think of a tweet (by Nicole Ellison) echoing the discussion at the International Conference of Weblogs and Social Media ICWSM a few weeks ago:

In the story, blind men describing the elephant end up with wildly different accounts depending on which part of the animal each happened to stumble upon. While different accounts may all add accurate and relevant information, it is only in combining them that the men can begin to understand what the elephant looks like as a whole.

Similarly, if we focus only on Facebook –or whatever happens to be the most popular study site at any given moment– we will gain insight only into parts of the proverbial beast of how technologies and people go together. So, how might our conceptualizations of social media sites and social interaction change if we explored a wider range of services and used them as tools for our theorizing?

Let’s first consider Couchsurfing.org, a social media site that helps traveling guests to connect with local hosts for free accommodation and shared experiences. As a study site, it may encourage us to envision privacy in ways we wouldn’t come to think of in considering Facebook. Couchsurfing profiles offer users the option of presenting themselves as “several people”, making room for profiles that are not owned by individuals but small groups of people, such as couples, families, and housemates. Studying Couchsurfing may help us unpack what it means for a group to make itself more or less accessible and open to others. Social psychologist Irwin Altman’s definition of privacy as an interpersonal boundary process by which a person or a group regulates interaction with others [1] is quoted often in research on privacy in networked contexts, such as social media sites. However, the focus tends to be on individuals and their interpersonal negotiations, leaving regulation on the group level with scarce attention. Furthermore, what could we learn from studying couchsurfers’ experiences and considering privacy as hospitality, or privacy as politeness?

As another example, let’s think of changes in privacy settings and defaults on social media sites. Over Facebook’s history, changes to privacy settings have caused a number of heated debates (see boyd & Hargittai’s summary). Changes towards increased openness and decreased obscurity get framed as privacy violations. As such, they capture the attention of researchers and advocates focusing on privacy – for a reason. According to Altman’s theory of privacy, however, people’s efforts to regulate boundaries may fail both towards achieving too little or too much privacy. Pointing a finger at myself as much as at anyone else, I wonder whether our pressing concerns are biasing the focus of our theorizing.

While the trend among social media sites to tempt and push people to share more and more continues, purposely identifying and investigating counter examples could enrich our conceptual work. Consider Scoopinion, a Finnish news service that recently abandoned its original, automated social sharing model in order to focus on delivering personalized, “crowd-curated” recommendations for feature-length stories. In this process, interestingly for our theorizing purposes, Scoopinion users lost access to the behavioral data of others along with the chance to share their own reading data on the site. If we are to adapt Altman’s theory to the networked, augmented world of today, shouldn’t we look at how users conceive of system changes like this that (unexpectedly) decrease access and visibility, too? Is the sudden end of sharing perceived as a privacy violation? If our studies considered also cases that counter the trend of increased openness, we might come to understand reactions to changes in privacy settings and defaults more comprehensively. More importantly, it could help us see more clearly where prior theories can fail or support theoretical understandings that are situated in the networked context of today.

I argue that we are much better off in theorizing social media and the ways in which they relate to people if we choose to explore varied sites of study. These choices affect what seems illustrative of the phenomena under study. If our theoretical thinking builds on empirical research in only a few dominant study sites (or just one), we risk sailing into the murky waters where what is popular and typical comes to dominate our thinking – even when we know fully well that it’s not all there is.

Cross posted at Cyborgology.

ps. I’m Airi Lampinen, one of this summer’s PhD interns here at the Social Media Collective. I’m a graduate student in social psychology at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and a researcher at Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT.

[1] Altman, I. 1975. The Environment and Social Behavior. Privacy – Personal Space – Territory – Crowding. Brooks-Cole Publishing Company, Monterey, CA, USA.

Elephant image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/boretom/6313127720/